There are many challenges to raising a child in today’s world with regular acts of terrorism, social media threats, and the increasingly intense competition on the playing fields and in the classroom for our young people. Many generations of parents have faced adversity as they raised children during the Great Depression, various wars, and times of social unrest. A fact that hasn’t changed, however, is that for hundreds of years Catholic education has helped families teach children values.
This week we celebrate the attributes of Catholic education throughout the United States during Catholic Schools Week 2015. Public school districts are thankful for the relief in tax dollars created by private schools. Based on the average public school cost of $10,652 per student, Catholic schools provide a savings of nearly $21 billion for U.S taxpayers. Parents are thankful for an education that is faith-based and in which learning to pray is part of the culture. Students are thankful for a second home that provides a caring and scholarly community built around faith. National statistics show that 99.4 percent of Catholic secondary school students graduate and 84.9 percent go on to college. At my school, Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, 99 percent of the graduating class of 2014 went to college.
There are over 70 million Catholics in the United States. Pew Research shows over 631,000 secondary school age teens are enrolled in parish religious education and over 582,000 students are enrolled in Catholic secondary schools. The Catholic population is available; however, tuition costs have driven up the price of Catholic education.
Should we talk about the price of Catholic education or should we talk about its value? My experience of parenting three children who attended Catholic elementary, secondary and college institutions and having worked at a Catholic high school for the last 12 years shows me only value. Every day students in Catholic education are reminded of values of how to be Christ like, how to bring those values into their community, and how to lead with those values when they graduate. Students are learning calculus and U.S. history but the learning beyond that is hard to define. Here are just a few examples of that “learning beyond” that I’ve witnessed: the entire soccer team visiting a teammate with a broken leg in the hospital; a student eating lunch by himself is asked by a group of students to join their table; the entire student body rallying around a sick and struggling fellow classmate with fundraising events, family meals, and rides to his treatment at the hospital; the football team inviting a young boy with Usher Syndrome to join them at practice and on the sidelines at games; students offering to carry a heavy box, or hold open the door for a faculty member, without being prompted. Simple yet profound and part of the everyday culture of Catholic education.
The school I lead has many examples of simple yet profound experiences. Students graduate with a moral compass entrenched in a sense of integrity, having learned to relate with God through prayer, sacrament, service, and personal relationships. The Camden Catholic graduate will embrace cultural, economic, and spiritual diversity in life as she or he enters the world as a future leader in our global society. We continually provide opportunities to learn ethical leadership skills. Because of our mission to educate young men and women spiritually, academically, socially and physically in a faith community to develop as life-long learners and leaders in a global society, we have witnessed a 22 percent increase in our enrollment with our current freshman class. Parents and alumni see the value of their Catholic education at Camden Catholic. A value that cannot include a price tag.
This week we celebrate the value of Catholic education based in a faith community. “Community is at the heart of all Catholic education, not simply as a concept to be taught, but as a reality to be lived. . . . Your students will learn to understand and appreciate the value of community as they experience love, trust, and loyalty in your school and educational programs, and as they learn to trust all persons as brothers and sisters created by God and redeemed by Christ,” said Pope John Paul II.
Thank you to all who have chosen Catholic education. Thank you to all who have chosen Camden Catholic High School since its founding in 1887, and those continue to support its mission. This week I invite everyone to celebrate Catholic schools across the country: Communities of faith, knowledge and service.
Mary Whipkey is president of Camden Catholic High School, Cherry Hill.